Archives for September 2010

Again, what credibility?

New data from Gallup proves the point again that the press in America today operates WITHOUT the public trust it is supposed to serve.

New Gallup Data

I need to repeat again that this is not due to new media. New media is a response to falling trust, which was at 73% in 1976.

The browser is mobile's killer app

In Google’s view of the Mobile Web, the browser is what really matters, and in a time of everybody building apps, I think this is absolutely spot-on. Apps are closed systems within proprietary operating systems, so reaching across all operating systems — including those that are yet to come — is problematic at best. The advent of HTML5 allows for rich experiences across all browsers for anybody wishing to play in the Mobile Web, so spending all of our time and resources playing with apps is something we ought to reconsider.

Brendon Kraham, GoogleThis concept of the browser as killer app was put forth by Brendon Kraham, Team Manager of Mobile for Google, at the Borrell mobile conference in Dallas, and it was a presentation that was, frankly, pretty eye-opening. Kraham offered four conclusions about mobile:

  1. Growth is accelerating. This was a common theme throughout the conference. Kraham referenced Mary Meeker’s projection that within the next five years, more people will be using the Mobile Web than the Wired Web. The revenue graphs shown by Borrell are remarkable, so there’s little disagreement that mobile is where its at.
  2. Openness will win. This is why Google created Android. Despite the beauty of walled gardens today, people will eventually expect the same things from the Mobile Web that they do from its wired big brother. This is one of the reasons that net neutrality laws MUST be extended to the Mobile Web, ‘lest the Telcos turn it into tiered options based on money. There are 60 devices running Android worldwide today, with 200,000 new activations every day.
  3. The browser is the new killer app. As noted above, if we wish a ubiquitous present in the Mobile Web, then the mobile browser is what we should be preparing ourselves for. Kraham noted that the line between mobile and wired is blurring more and more each day. I think it’s absolutely necessary to pay attention to this concept.
  4. Mobile consumers are looking for local information. 30% of all Google mobile searches are local, according to Kraham, so portable media is very personal and very local. Search is also the top opportunity for mobile, and Google is, well, tops in search. Kraham showed slides representing mobile search activity in San Francisco over the life span of smartphones, and growth was 11.6 times over just a two-year period. Truly remarkable.

So if the browser is the new killer mobile app, then mobile landing pages for small and mid-sized businesses are hugely important and a significant opportunity for somebody. Kraham noted that the number one thing merchants want with local search is to drive people to their landing pages. However, he noted, most are just crap (my word). Mobile landing pages, he said, must “optimize USER experience,” and that’s very different than simply providing an online brochure. It takes skill to think like a customer, but that’s what’s necessary in the mobile world.

He spoke of several new innovations that Google has been working on, including hyperlocal distance information and click to call. In a search for a business, they can include our location and produce a map that shows where we are and how we get to the searched business. “Click to call” is a technology that’s included in a search ad, where users click on a unique number which routes them to the business they’re seeking.

Money in the mobile space will be much more about enabling commerce than it even is online, and we need to think this way, if we’re going to be successful.

The future is unmistakeably mobile

smartphonesThis week’s Borrell conference on mobile money has revealed some fascinating concepts and thoughts that require elaboration. Let’s begin by acknowledging that nobody really “knows” where all of this is heading, but there are a lot of smart people milking the mobile space for everything they can get out of it. Some of it is extremely cool, but as you’d imagine, much of it falls into the “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” variety.

Deseret Media president & CEO Clark Gilbert, whose keynote presentation was stunning in its thoughtful approach to the whole problem of the disruptions we face, noted that media companies may be facing a similar situation to what mainframe computers faced when PCs first came along. The mini-computer was disrupting the mainframe industry, but it was soon blown away by the PC. The mini-computer business didn’t see it coming, because the creators were convinced theirs was the disruptor. Blithely asking the question “Who would want a computer in their home?” was their real downfall. Gilbert suggested traditional media may be the mainframes with the Wired Web being the mini-computer disruption, but the real disruptor may be the Mobile Web. He wondered if media companies are really prepared.

One thing’s for sure; if media companies treat the Mobile Web as they have the Wired Web, we’re going to have serious problems, and that’s essentially what this conference was about.

Nexstar CEO Perry Sook noted that the portable media device will be “your wallet” in just a short period of time and thought about the day that “Your wallet is in your TV, and your TV is in your wallet.” Sweet, but perhaps a little unnerving for the average Joe.

Rob Weisbord of Sinclair talked about “geo-fencing,” the use of Bluetooth to build a sort of geographic force field on behalf of an advertiser who can then push messages to anybody driving through or walking through. While currently only available via app, Weisbord spoke of the day when the capability will be built into the operating systems of all mobile devices, thereby making it “app-less,” a regular part of your phone. You’d walk into Kroger and immediately receive a text message about deals and coupons. You’d drive past Wal-Mart and receive a similar text message. Add to that previous purchase knowledge, and it becomes a direct marketer’s dream.

One thing I noted (and tweeted) during the event was the unexpected blowback against Groupon, the mobile couponing company. Groupon provides deals on behalf of local advertisers and offers to partner with local media companies to help them get into the business and make some money along-the-way. Clark Gilbert noted that Groupon — and a host of other companies like them — aren’t driven by helping local media companies — they’re real mission is to harvest the media company’s email database, and the moment that harvesting begins to trend downward, they’ll leave and compete against their former partner. Two people mentioned this, and that awareness was refreshing and a sign that at least some people are beginning to figure out that the new media money space is all about data. I had not seen this before.

I wonder about many things when I’m among my friends in the business, and this time was no different. I wondered, for example, when we’ll stop assuming that we can push things at people without them pushing back. The Web — and by extension, the Mobile Web — is a direct-marketing marvel, and that very personal device you put in your pocket is your new mailbox. Nobody wants a mailbox full of stuff they didn’t ask for, and I think we underestimate this as we look at the future and what’s possible.

Another thing I wondered about was whether the people in the room truly understand what’s happening to them and their businesses. When media company reps stand up and tout their “content-driven product strategy,” I wince, because the evidence clearly shows that separating making money from content is the way to go. “Deals” was a popular topic, for example, but that has nothing to do with news content. It is trust in the brand that opens doors for new ventures, not content produced by those brands.

Bob Gilbert of Morris Media emphasized his company’s tablet strategy and stated that Morris believes tablets are a “do-over” for their whole business, a “start-over” to get things right. Their tablet product looks — amazingly — like a newspaper, because they want to “replicate the curation of print,” to “show connections to our roots,” and to “be a bridge from the old to the new for consumers.” I love the folks at Morris and wish them well, but this feels like a roll of the dice to me.

In reference to Clark Gilbert and Deseret Digital, several people mentioned throughout the day that it is the resources that Gilbert has at his disposal that allows his company to be so innovative. “We’re publicly traded and don’t have resources like that,” was the comment. I want to reiterate Gilbert’s response to that statement: “What choice do we have?” I think that’s a fair question.

I also think that is the number one takeaway from this conference. Mobile is on us like a freight train, and we’ll never capture a winning share of the ad market, if we don’t invest and invest well.

Big business's worst invention

Do Not EnterI’m busy as hell today, but I have to pause for a rant. People, really. Is there anything worse for those wishing to do business with business than the answering machine, or worse, elaborate voice mail forwarding, routing and “leave a message” systems? Where did we get the idea that jerking people around like this was smart business? Because, I’ve got news for you, it’s the worst thing ever to happen to the business world, and it’s all in the name of saving a buck. It has grown, however, from a cost-saving mechanism to one where businesses can control with whom they have contact. You don’t “call” a business anymore; you leave a message, so that they can get back to you at THEIR convenience, if ever.

This “leave us alone” attitude has also shifted to the Web, where obtaining a real email address that somebody might actually see requires the investigative skills of a reporter. I suppose we have spam to blame for this, but that’s no excuse for isolating yourself from people who’d like to contact you.

Communication with most American businesses today is a one-way street, from them to us.

I just spent 30 minutes trying to do somebody a favor, and I’ve been thwarted at every turn. This company has isolated itself from its customers, and the ridiculous thing is that I’m sure they don’t think so.

We have taken it for granted as a culture that we and we alone — business or otherwise — are masters of our own communications portals. I’m not convinced this is a good thing.

Why Fox can't just admit it

Fox News logoSlate has published a wonderful deconstruction of the lawsuit by Fox News to stop Missouri’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Robin Carnahan, from using Fox file footage in her ads. Fox argues that her use of the footage hurts the reputation of its news business for accuracy and objectivity. The problem is that Carnahan’s opponent also uses Fox News footage, but the Republican isn’t being sued.

I read this stuff and wonder again why Fox just doesn’t admit that theirs is a network that supports Republicans and issues of the right. That wonder doesn’t last long, because the reason is a familiar one (this was our view at CBN): Fox takes the position that the established press is biased and they are fair and balanced. To prove this proposition, Fox News believes that by simply including the point-of-view of the right, they’re providing “we report, you decide.” It may seem like “bias” to others, the thinking goes, because the average citizen is used to only hearing one side — the liberal side.

This is all well and good (and logical) until something like this lawsuit happens. Suddenly, the BS of it all is revealed, but Fox cannot risk simply admitting its bias, because to do so would disprove their marketing position. How? If Fox admits bias, then others can claim the middle ground. If Fox would admit a position of extreme on the right, it would be “balanced” by extremes on the left, and the traditional press could then claim the center. Fox cannot allow this to happen.

There’s also the matter of audience expectations. Your audience can’t “fight” on behalf of your position, if you admit it’s otherwise.

I don’t think there’s any question about what’s happening with Fox, but I don’t think you’ll ever hear anybody from Fox News admit it.

Killing the Golden Goose, a modern media parable

the goose that laid the golden eggsLocal media websites regularly employ tactics that put revenue above users, and this is a much bigger deal than we realize.

Let’s review. Local media, feeling the disruption to its core business, reaches out into the Web for new revenue opportunities. Experts are assembled for white board sessions about “monetizing content.” After all, that’s our business, we think. The experts show us everybody else, because, well, we want to do what everybody else is doing right? They must know something we don’t know, and we can’t let that happen.

So we build websites that extend our brand to the Web, and we put our “content” out there. Size matters (for advertisers), right? So the experts tell us that we need as many page views as possible, for the advertisers like LOTS of page views. After operating for so many years as master manipulators of mass audiences, the experts tell us that we can do the same online, so we think, “Gosh, this is easy. I can turn one-story/one-page view into one-story/four-page views, simply by breaking a story into many parts.”

We smile and go our way, waiting for those big checks to arrive.

Not once do we talk to the people actually using our sites, except to ask them what they will “tolerate” (my favorite word).

We discover that the vast majority of our online users are those who engage with our legacy property. We’re serving our own audience. They like us already.

We make some money, but nothing approaching our hearts desire. As the years pass, however, we’re aware of the importance of this thing called “new media” but seem unable to grow audience around our brand. What gives, we ask?

And yet, we continue to shove reach/frequency tactics down the throats of our users, because, well, that’s what everybody does. Our need for page views pushes us to switch from breaking stories into four pieces to breaking stories into five. And still, we don’t actually talk to users.

Enough review. You get my drift. It’s called the “price of interaction”  — what we charge our users to participate with us online. The higher the price, the less appealing we are, and so we have a problem. And this problem is going to get worse as the shift to real time for news accelerates.

Somehow, some way, we’ve got to figure out that attaching ads to content the way we’ve done it before just doesn’t cut it online. Until that happens, we’ll continue killing the goose that potentially could be laying golden eggs for us.